How HR Can Stop Playing the Game of Whack-a-Mole

By | December 12, 2014

Let’s say you have a department with an increasing turnover and ongoing complaints. Assuming the complaints are not about egregious acts in violation of labor law, you might find yourself having multiple time-zapping conversations.  You might then be speaking with the manager in an attempt to fix issues and problems.  And in this conversation, the manager might bring up additional problems about the employees who made the initial complaints.  Furthermore, just when you think a department’s problems have been fixed, they start up again, and you feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole at the local Chuck E Cheese.

Here’s a seven-step method to address issues and solve problems in an expedient manner:

  1. Write a five-question survey designed to elicit solutions for problems the employees and management have been experiencing.  The survey should intentionally omit leading questions that would unearth personal attacks or statements about personalities. Keeping the survey short and focused is crucial.
  2. Issue the survey (via email) to the entire staff in that department, including the manager and director.  State that the survey is mandatory and give them a short deadline (24 hours).  Inform employees that they will be attending a mandatory meeting within a day of survey completion in order to discuss survey results and troubleshoot problems as a team.  Assure them their answers will be anonymous and confidential.
  3. Based on their answers, develop a PowerPoint with questions and specific solutions. Be mindful not to reveal individual suggestions, comments or ideas by rephrasing their language.
  4. At the meeting, use fun and teambuilding icebreakers and energizers.  Clarify that the meeting will not be about personalities or anything personal, that the focus will be on the problems (perceived and real) and actionable solutions.
  5. Launch into the meeting, using specifics and insisting on an open dialogue.  At the meeting’s end, summarize actionable solutions.  End with a call to arms and inform them—using very frank language—that if nothing is done after the meeting, their problems will likely worsen.
  6. Before the end of the day, follow up with an email summarizing the actionable solutions in writing.
  7. Follow up every few days with both line-level staff and management to ensure agreed solutions are put in place.

The above technique works well if the group is cooperative and willing to work.  That said, it will also reveal disengaged, inflexible and disengaged employees.  Certainly, the techniques above aren’t new.  I have issued employee surveys before and then met with department heads to discuss employee suggestions and observations.  If management ignored the survey results, however, the employees became even more disgruntled than they were prior to the survey.  I have also held meetings with staff to hash out issues, and they have become more of a complaint session, or I have had to play the role of therapist.

The method suggested here is a combination of a tailored survey, conflict resolution, guided discussions, actionable solutions, and follow through.  If you have problems with departments that have become a pebble in your HR loafer, I highly recommend this approach.

One thought on “How HR Can Stop Playing the Game of Whack-a-Mole

  1. Helen Amery

    I whole heartedly believe in solving root cause to avoid fire fighting problems but I’m wondering whether some of this approach is parental? What if it was just about getting everyone in the room for an honest conversation, finding out the stuff that’s going well and that they value, as well as what’s challenging. Definitely love the fact this approach helps them bring more of their life into their circle of influence though.


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